November 14, 2015, the day after the terrorist attacks, Paris was locked down. I was sequestered in the Hotel Henriette, tracking the unfolding events on TV. Throughout the day, details of the attacks slowly emerged, with updates about the ongoing hunt for the remaining terrorists, and warnings about the threats in the metro and at tourist sites. Eventually, the news came out that French President, Francois Hollande, would be closing the borders of France in order to block the passage of violent extremists in or out. It didn’t occur to me at the time that closing the borders to a country in the European Union, which no longer maintains borders or border checks as it used to, would actually have been impossible to undertake that quickly, but at the time, I was struck by the narrow vision of that decision and the catastrophic effect it would have on refugees from Syria and Iraq. The news got me riled up, and since I couldn’t go into the city, I started writing.
On November 13th, the day of the attacks, my mother and I were wandering Paris. That morning, I’d run from our hotel around the Luxembourg Gardens and back. In the afternoon, wanting to explore a bit further afield, we walked northwest from the Seine up the Rue de Turbigo toward the Place de la République. About a block from the square, tired from a long day of exploring, we started looking for a café. We were disoriented, so I turned on my Endomondo app so we could track our route and get our bearings. We turned down the Rue du Temple, heading back toward the river and away from the events that would unfold.
Sitting in the hotel watching the news the next day, it was impossible not to think about what might have happened if we’d gotten tired ten minutes later, or if I’d seen the marquis at the Bataclan and realized that the Eagles of Death Metal were playing (I’ve wanted to see them live for years and wouldn’t have missed it if I’d known). But I wasn’t there, and to fret about what if feels self-indulgent in the face of the hundreds of people who did stop for a glass of wine, or did see the marquis, and who were either killed or lived through horrors I can’t imagine. Nevertheless, the memory of that walk keeps showing up for me, and I’ve drawn the Endomondo map many times, incorporating it into multiple drawings–the simply looping line of our Paris walk signifying an unknowing turn away from horror.
I wrote all day and into the night at the Hotel Henriette, and at midnight I submitted a grant application. It seemed clear that my previous studio work focusing on the borders and boundaries of farms and watersheds would shift to a consideration of national borders. A month after my return to the States, I learned that I’d received a Kindling Grant through the Andy Warhol Foundation, to support my Tracking the Border project. Throughout 2016, I’ll be exploring the 611 miles that represent the Canada/U.S. border in Maine. Dialogue and collaboration are the heart of this work, and in the conversations I’ve had so far, it’s evident that getting to know the border intimately requires following the unexpected narratives that come at me. Every conversation has led to another, and to a new location to explore. I’m beelining toward different sections of the border, finding conversations and exploring the dividing line on foot, by boat, by snowmobile, and more. The definition of a border varies dramatically based on each person’s perspective, and I’ll be blogging the insights and stories that emerge out of my conversations with a geologist, a native Passamaquoddy, a forester, and a border patrol officer, among the many other rippling conversations that are expanding my understanding of what defines, and disrupts, a border.
This post launches the written component of Tracking the Border, and I’ve decided to start at the chronological beginning, in Paris, since that was the point of the work’s genesis. Though I am interested in framing the ways that a border is sometimes a construct, the work for Tracking the Border is not overtly political. What brings me back to Paris as the first plot point is a desire to remember the power and narrative that a looping line can hold.
Before leaving Paris, I went to the sites of the attacks to pay my respects. I’ll close with those images, and will be back soon to share a bit about my first adventure to Ft. Kent, Maine.